We lost everything to fire but not the spirit…
What does a 16 year old girl normally converse about? School? Career? Dresses? Movies? Music? Boys? Well, when I and Astha Srivastava (name changed), a sixteen year old from Bal Bharti School, resident of Saraswati Vihar, Delhi had a chat, none of the above topics were discussed. She instead narrated to me an incident or rather an accident of her life which left a deep impact on her mind.
The night of 24th May 2010 had progressed as usual, – dinner, easy banter with her brother- in other words family time. The first signs of unusualness was noted when the electricity started fluctuating erratically, but they thought it to be some power problem in the electricity board, and ignored it.
At around 11.45 pm, call it divine intervention or a miracle, the door bell went off. Her brother opened the door to see who it was but surprisingly there was no one at the door. He was just about to shut the door when he noticed smoke coming out from the outer room in the portico, the room where the electrical meter box was placed. He screamed for his father, who then rushed into the room to find the meter box on fire. It was spreading fast, on to the curtains and the inflammable sheets or awnings there. He tried his best to contain the fire by beating it with a blanket (no water, as it was an electrical fire) who was now joined by his wife. He somehow managed in between to call out to Aastha to switch off the entire electrical appliance and evacuate the house fast and to his son he instructed to call the fire brigade. Meanwhile sparks were flying in the electrical wiring of the house. Aastha managed to switch off the lights and alert the other family members (theirs was a joint family). Her mother started taking handy items to safety as they realized it was a losing battle. Within minutes the fire had engulfed the outer room. Her father retreated and concentrated on saving whatever he could. All of them made a mad dash outside with whatever few they could grab like laptop, purse, bags, phone etc… Helplessly, they stood from afar to see the destruction – motor bike, new scooty, television, ACs, computer, furniture, important papers- they saw it being destroyed. Her grandmother was in tears. Her mother in shock: only her father managed to maintain a stoic calm. She was numb with grief and fear at the sight of her early memories being reduced into ashes. Finally the fire brigade arrived and saved the rest of the house, but the three front rooms suffered massive damage. The cause of the fire was electrical fault.
What followed was worse. Aastha and her brother were bundled off to their relative’s place till the renovation was completed. Their parents stayed back to repair the damage. Other than the worldly possessions, some papers and passbooks were also lost in the fire … The insurance papers of the scooty and the bike were in the vehicle itself. It meant more running about. Her heart went out to her parents who had stayed back at the amenity less damaged house to restore it and who toiled the whole week to make it a home from a burned down house. At last the week was over and their life started coming back to normal gradually. But that one week taught Aastha some important lessons, which even we as responsible citizens may not be wholly aware of.
First- The electrical connection you opt for should be as per your requirements. The kilo watt should be as per the power appliances you will be using. There should be no overload.
2nd – Always go for periodical check up of the wiring of the house. Defective wiring causes short circuits which leads to fire
3rd- Try to insure your house in a comprehensive package against fire damage, robberies etc. These are rare but why take a chance against fate? Here I would like to request the private players of insurances in the market to try reduce the premium for better compliance.
4th- always try to scan your important papers and store in a secure e- mail account. Of course there lies the threat of hacking, but the effort saved in case of an eventuality is note worthy. There are always the trustworthy lockers again.
5th- Try to acquire a fire extinguisher which is effective for all fire types, There is no harm and only gain in keeping one at home.
6th- In case of electrical fire it is important to call along with the fire brigade , the electricity board to cut off the supply at that area in order to contain the fire.
Aastha’s family survived the fire and its aftermath, but I feel Aastha was the true survivor, to not only face this adversity with a maturity beyond her years but also turn it into a learning experience of life.
Survivor story – Bhopal Gas tragedy
A survivor story in spite of being expected to have a happy ending may sometimes leave a lingering sadness. Our story today is one such. Dr Jayshree. MS, a GDMO in DHS, Delhi recounts hers and her family’s tale of horror that fateful night- on the intervening night of 2nd 3rd December. 1984, Bhopal. The night of that tragedy – the night of the disaster of Bhopal Gas tragedy.
Dr Jayshree who was pursuing her post graduate studies away from home received news the next day that there here had been a major gas leak in the Union Carbide Factory. Back then there were no cell phones for instant contact. The telephone lines were not working. (Probably jammed) Though she was worried to death and wanted to be with her family at the earliest, there was nothing she could do as her Faculty too had advised her against visiting home until it was safe as there were no proper reports of the situation back in Bhopal. After three restless days she finally reached Bhopal. It resembled a ghost town. The city smelled of death and despair. The railway station was almost deserted. Coolies had many sad tales to tell- Of train load of people dying in their sleep: Of people, who were sleeping bliss fully unaware of the situation when it passed through and halted. There was one heroic story of a station master who on realizing the gravity of the situation valiantly attempted to signal all trains not to stop. He kept on at his post trying to contact stations to stop entering the city instead of fleeing and taking cover and in the process he lost his life. There were also unconfirmed stories of Para medics who were affected by the toxic gas while administering treatment as it was reported that they simply were at loss at the nature of treatment to be given and the antidote as there were no information about the gas that had leaked. Amidst these stories of horror she reached home but thankfully her family members were safe.
The Cold wintry night had saved her family and so were the other residents of the colony. They had slept with the windows tightly shut and were safely tucked in bed underneath thick blankets, when the toxic gas spread over the unsuspecting city. When the gas leaked it was reported that the alarms were not sounded and the workers fled the site immediately without activating the (almost non existent) emergency management systems… By the time the authorities were informed precious moments were wasted. It was a small consolation that the gas was denser and by early morning it had disappeared considerably.
The leak was controlled and the gas had settled down literally and thankfully dispersed or else the casualties would have been higher. The next morning there was death everywhere near the factory. Add to it some panic spreading rumors which sent the city in total chaos. Information network was not functioning properly. The city was simply not prepared for something of this magnitude even after having some close shaves earlier. After one week the city somewhat turned into normal but long term effects started showing up. There was food scarcity for one; secondly the symptoms of long term toxic effects of the gas were showing in the affected people. Relief was slow to come. Dr Jayshree‘s family were lucky in that no body suffered any damage. They had come out of it unscathed and safe and they were thankful to the almighty for it, but happy? … Can’t say… can’t be! At least not now, anymore!
- Bhopal gas tragedy occurred on the night of December 3 or more precisely on the intervening night of 2nd and 3rd December at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal.
- Around midnight there was there was a leak of methyl isocyanate(MIC) gas and other toxins from the plant, resulting in the exposure of over 500,000 people.
- Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Other government agencies estimate 15,000 deaths. Others estimate that 8,000 died within the first weeks and that another 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.
- Another 100,000 to 200,000 people are estimated to have permanent injuries.
- Warren Anderson, the then Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation of USA, was allowed to escape India and is still an absconder and did not not subject himself to trial.
- Greenpeace asserts that as the Union Carbide CEO, Anderson knew about a 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant, which identified 30 major hazards and that they were not fixed in Bhopal but were fixed at the company’s identical plant in the US.
- 26 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster that had left over many thousands of people dead, a local court had convicted all the seven persons, including former Union Carbide Chairman Keshub Mahindra, in the case and awarded them a maximum of two years imprisonment while the erstwhile CEO lives a free man in US.
Value of human life:
- After the accident, no one under the age of 18 was registered. The number of children exposed to the gases was at least 200,000.
- Immediate relief was decided two days after the tragedy.
- Relief measures commenced in 1985 when food was distributed for a short period and ration cards were distributed.
- Widow pension of the rate of Rs 200/per month (later Rs 750) was provided.
- One-time ex-gratia payment of Rs 1,500 to families with monthly income Rs 500 or less was decided.
- Each claimant was to be categorised by a doctor. In court, the claimants were expected to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that death or injury in each case was attributable to exposure. In 1992, 44 percent of the claimants still had to be medically examined.
- From 1990 interim relief of Rs 200 was paid to everyone in the family who was born before the disaster.
- The final compensation (including interim relief) for personal injury was for the majority Rs 25,000 (US$ 830). For death claim, the average sum paid out was Rs 62,000.
- Effects of interim relief were more children sent to school, more money spent on treatment, more money spent on food, improvement of housing conditions.
- The management of registration and distribution of relief showed many shortcomings.
- In 2007, 1,029,517 cases were registered and decided. Number of awarded cases were 574,304 and number of rejected cases 455,213. Total compensation awarded was Rs.1,546.47 crores.
- Because of the smallness of the sums paid and the denial of interest to the claimants, a sum as large as Rs 10 billion is expected to be left over after all claims have been settled.
You punch me and I will punch you back harder
Survivor… hmmm! The word sounds familiar… but not quite familiar.
Am I a survivor? I don’t know yet. I don’t feel I have won… but I know I am fighting. There is so much I have had to fight with over the past one year. Here’s my story.
I had kidney stones in 2008, and all was pretty cool at that point. It wasn’t a big deal at all. The bigger concern was the 20 Kgs I had gained (82 – 102) over the past two years because of lack of activity and abundance of beer
Now! In March’09, exactly a year ago, I decided to get rid of all this excess weight and watched a couple of Rocky Balboa to get me pumped. It was on 6th of March that I began exercising—twice a day—and with limited diet. I worked so hard that I lost 7 Kgs in the month of March. However, a new problem substantiated. I started getting fever at weird intervals… and every day. The usual fever courses did not prove to be of help. I could not go in for a full fledged checkup because I had joined a new organization on 16th March. I continued to report to work even through the illness and it kept worsening. It was on 1st April that I thought enough was enough. I took leaves and went for ultrasound and other checks.
During the ultrasound, it was discovered that I had pleural effusion (water in pleura, the covering of lungs). I googled the possible causes and the probables were TB, Lung Cancer, Lung Pneumonia etc. Well! It was not a nice read. Anyways, a couple of days and tests later, the verdict came out to be TB.
TB was a big deal disease in earlier times but it has become perfectly curable now. All you need to do is to take a 9 months course of a combination of some deadly medicines. I was cool with that. ‘Curable’ was a very cool word, I thought. Now… this is where the real problem surfaced. Where? When? Well, when I thought ‘what if’. What if I had lung cancer?
I had the Internet to my disposal… and I searched so much about cancer… that it was probably the biggest mistake of my life. I read much more than I should have. It was those days that I realized how easy it was for this precious life to end. Death scared the hell out of me. I am sorry but I have not recovered from that frame of mind ever since. I have completely forgotten to enjoy life. All I have been thinking is – ‘when all things have to come to an end, why bother taking stuff so seriously’. I have lost respect for job, money, people… and even deliverables… which is the reason I got chucked out of the new job just two months after joining. I had lost it completely.
My TB course was discontinued on my birthday, 12th November. It wasn’t a big relief because I had stopped caring for things. Cancer scared/scares me big time. After the TB course was discontinued, I developed weird pimples on skin… which of course I thought as skin cancer…. but it turned out to be side effects of the medicines I had consumed. The skin problem is now taken care of. But then there is a problem in my throat… which is not healing since three months… I have paid so many visits to doctors… but all is definitely not well.
Professionally… I began freelancing in September last year… and somehow managed it… but ended up losing my clients due to the instability in mind and the resultant attitude. Remember??? I had stopped caring. Then, this year, I managed to get into a permanent job… but lost it due to similar issues (they promised me a permanent office but later asked me to work from home for a couple of months more… which I didn’t want to).
The only good thing that happened to me last year was my blog. I decided to vent out my frustration in the form of blog posts… and it helped big time! Here’s a tip – look around for vents; they help you.
Coming back to the bad things… 1st March’2010—no job, no money, health distorted, mind distorted, weight 108 kgs, personal relationships suffering… thoughts of ‘death’ all the time… and all the time to think of death!
Then again, that’s not the end of the story. I thought, ‘what if’. What if I fight once again… after all, it’s the month of March.
I hired a Yoga sir… started gymming… and took a decision! I will dedicate two whole months of my life to health… SO… here it is… March and April I am busy… friends. Although the throat problem hasn’t healed… but I can fight!
I can clearly remember all the things that motivated me once upon a time. ‘You punch me and I will punch you back harder’, said Rocky. I have decided to punch life. The weight is coming down… 104 at the moment. I think of death sometimes… but I think of life the remaining times.
- Thanks to Kshitij Khurana for sharing his survivor story with us. He is a blogger and writes at Dusht-ka-Drishtikone and his funny photo blog, Mitti-ka-Sher. Mani Padma needs a special mention here for talking to Kshitij and getting this story for us. For more of Mani Padma’s articles, click HERE
If any one of you have inspiring stories of yourself which can inspire and help many, kindly share with us in survivors series. Send the stories to: sip(at)gingerchai(dot)com or Contact Us